John Wall has been getting a lot of love lately. Among his latest honors and accolades:
- Already a two-time Southeastern Conference Freshman Player of the Week
- ESPN.com National Player of the Week
- FOX Sports is mentioning him as a top candidate of National Player of the Year
- DraftExpress.com has him going No. 1 overall in next year's NBA Draft
- And ESPN has lauded him as one No. 3 on its list of the NEXT superstars
All that in addition to his team-leading 18.5 points and 7.8 assists per game, game-winning 15-footer against Miami (Ohio), game-tying free throws against Stanford, and, oh, did we mention he has a drink named after him at Two Keys Tavern?
The legend of Wall has grown even faster than most in Lexington could have predicted. On a team of superstars, Wall is the crown jewel.
But for one reason or another, Wall never got that love from North Carolina, and Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams decided to go in a different direction. Besides a pair of phone calls before the 2009 national championship game, Wall hardly heard from UNC. The title game came and went, and Wall never got a call back from his hometown school, much less a scholarship offer.
Wall's feelings were hurt. The Raleigh, N.C., native said he grew up bleeding blue - Carolina blue - calling the Tar Heels his favorite team as a child and Vince Carter his favorite player.
"I feel like they didn't think I was good enough to play there or they just took it in a way that they were moving on forward and they were happy with what they got and the players they have," Wall said.
What's that old cliche again? One man's loss is another man's gain?
Head coach John Calipari jumped at the chance to nab the nation's most prized recruit out of the Tar Heels' backyard. Now Wall will finally have a chance to go face-to-face with his hometown school Saturday in Rupp Arena and show it what it missed out on.
"You might see Superman come out there," freshman forward DeMarcus Cousins said after Monday's win over UNC Asheville. "I believe John has some bad blood with North Carolina somewhere in there."
Wall, who surely had this game circled on his calendar six months ago when he signed a national letter of intent to play for UK, admitted he'll probably have a little extra motivation this game, all while downplaying any notions of revenge or redemption.
"I think I might have a little bit of an edge but I can't let it overwhelm me and get out of control and do stuff that I'm not supposed to do or try to do too much while I'm playing on Saturday," Wall said. "I've got to keep doing what I've been doing and get my teammates involved. If I have the opportunity to score that's' what I do, but I think if I get out of control it's going to mess us up."
Wall has little to prove at this point. He's quickly become a staple of the 2009-10 basketball season and will likely be an All-America candidate if he keeps his current pace up.
However, Wall is at the tender age of 19 when emotions can sometimes get in the way of focus. That's why Calipari said he may try to sit down with Wall before the game and make sure his attention is in the right play.
"He's been pretty cool all year," Calipari said. "Everybody is trying to make their name at his expense - every player he plays, every guard he plays. They're writing stories about it prior to the game, kids are talking about it if they're the point guard on the other team, so he understands that. I'm more concerned about some other guys.
"It's not John Wall vs. North Carolina. It's our team vs. their team. It's our big guys vs. their big guys."
As true is that may be, no spotlight will shine brighter than the one on Wall and his homegrown roots with North Carolina. With the eyes of the nation watching him (Saturday's 12:30 p.m. ET game will be a live nationally televised broadcast on CBS), how will the first-year player react?
"It's just your mind-set," Wall said. "If you're too jacked, you know how to calm yourself down. At 19 or 18 years old, you've got to calm yourself down by then. If you were younger, you'd be out of control and wouldn't know how to stop. Now I'm mature and I know when I'm too hyped, I've got to calm myself down or coach Cal will call me to the side and tell me to calm down."
How Wall ever landed at UK or how North Carolina passed on one of the most heavily recruited player in years in their own backyard remains a bit of a mystery.
"I still don't have (a) clue," Wall said of UNC's decision not to offer him a scholarship. "... I'm happy with my decision (to be at UK)."
Based on what he's been able to do so far, Calipari and Kentucky are ecstatic to have him on their side.
"There were people telling him, 'You need to go to Duke.' " Calipari said. "It was made public and it was in the newspapers. He had to withstand all that. I think I've had players before who want to play for us in this style listen to their heart and do what they want to do."
"You want guys like that," Calipari said. "John, in the end, is a pleaser. He's going to listen to everybody around him because he wants to please everybody. But he was strong enough in the end to make the decision he wanted to make."
Wall insisted that he doesn't have any bad blood with Williams or North Carolina, but it's hard to imagine a scenario Saturday where Wall won't be out to prove a point Saturday.
"(North Carolina's) a great school to go play basketball for," Wall said. "It's a big game on our schedule. Whenever it's a big game that's when you want to step up and play to the best of your ability and do what you can to help your team win."